Spanning the Gender Gap

Does a Woman Have to Be One of the Boys to Excel in Climbing?
By Abby Watkins

Gasping, I belly flop onto the glazed, sun-drenched ledge at Camp 5 on the Nose of El Capitan. Evening light softens the stark lines of Yosemite Valley, which makes the meadow below seem even farther away. I'm bone tired. Since 5 a.m. (was it only this morning that we were on the ground?), Vera and I have been tackling the sheer, unforgiving lines of this magical monolith.

"Your lead," Vera says as she hands me the rack. She's just led the last five pitches and now it's my turn to do the same. I look at the upper dihedrals towering above us: still so far to go.

"Thanks." My weary reply reveals the fatigue engulfing my body and mind. "How's your water supply?"

"Gone." Monosyllabic responses are easier to muster and are all our partnership requires after climbing acres of rock together in many countries over the past few years.

We're out of water and food. This is when we must dig deep. Somehow I drag myself to my feet and start climbing. The first move is sheer will, but slowly my body takes over where my mind is too tired. My body understands the intricacies of granite climbing and moves instinctually across its smoothness. Soon I am 100 percent engaged, and the rock slowly passes beneath me. Four hours later I am crawling onto the summit under a full moon. The Nose in a Day: A dream come true.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 3 Dec 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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